Introduction to Ethnobotany - Online biology courses | Arts and Science ONLINE

Introduction to Ethnobotany

BIOL 319/3.0

Ethnobotany is the study of the relationships that exist between indigenous cultures and local flora. Case studies will be presented to examine the various categories of plant use, the importance of traditional knowledge to Western culture, and the role of plant conservation and cultural sustainability.

Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes

After completing BIOL 319, students should have the knowledge and skills to do the following:

  • describe how the science of ethnobotany is applied in the understanding of relationships between plants and indigenous/traditional cultures
  • describe how botany and biochemistry are used in identifying and understanding the ethnobotanical value of a given plant species
  • develop the skills and methods used to collect, classify and preserve plant materials
  • list the main categories of plant use by indigenous/traditional peoples and identify how plant value depends on cultural context, both material and spiritual
  • present examples illustrating how traditional plant knowledge derived from ethnobotanical investigations have been applied in our modern world and the positive and negative implications of this


This 12-week course consists of a series of lectures, assignments and web forum discussions based on assigned readings. Lesson 1 (week 1) offers a general introduction and a brief history of ethnobotany. The next two sets of lessons (weeks 2 and 3) focus on the botanical sciences, including plant structure and function, specimen collection, preservation and taxonomy. The first assignment will strengthen the students understanding of these basic principles by identifying the ethnobotanical value of selected wild food plants to indigenous/traditional cultures that once inhabited their local region. In Lesson 4 (week 4), we will briefly discuss the relationships that exist between the availability of local plant resources and the evolution of a culture’s primary diet, be it hunting and gathering or farming. Over the course of the next several lessons (weeks 5 to 11), we will turn our attention to the main categories of plant use that exist among the various indigenous/traditional cultures around the world. For their second assignment, students are presented with an option of submitting an online poster detailing an ethnobotanically important plant species, or submitting an online herbarium collection of ethnobotanically relevant plants from their local region. In the last 2 lessons (weeks 11 and 12), we will focus on the ethnobotany of First Nations peoples of the Great Lakes region, looking at each of the main categories of plant use including the construction of the birch bark canoe.


BIOL 319, Introduction to Ethnobotany, explores the fundamental relationships that exist between plants and indigenous/traditional cultures from around the world. The course presents the history of indigenous/traditional plant use in relation to cultural development, as well as how modern scientific approaches to ethnobotanical investigation are revealing new and exciting applications for plant materials. Where applicable, case studies will be presented that elucidate the various categories of plant use, the importance of traditional knowledge to Western culture, and the role of plant conservation and cultural sustainability. Students will apply components of the botanical sciences (taxonomy, ecology, biochemistry, physiology, etc.) to ethnobotanical investigations and understanding.


Course Resources


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System Requirements:

Computer Specifications

  • Windows 8.1 or newer
  • OSX 10.13 (High Sierra) or newer
  • Dual Core 2 GHz processor
  • 4 GB RAM
  • Soundcard
  • USB Headset
  • Webcam

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  • Wifi is not recommended


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Media Player

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